Saturday, June 18, 2011

Violence On My Mind

Last Saturday, the fifth person I'm aware of this year was on the receiving end of violence associated with a local bar called The Forge. The majority of these incidents have resulted in hospital visits yet, to my knowledge, charges haven't been pressed in any of the cases.

The corner building that The Forge now occupies
has gone through many incarnations over the years and has apparently had a reputation as a locus of conflict since the Seventies. Historically, the tensions that combust there have been between whites and natives from the Rez, between ranchers and liberals, between gays and straights, between out-of-towners and locals. And the violence has also been completely random at times.

It's hard to stomach that people in this place I am proud to call home have been hurt enough themselves to threaten and beat the crap out of strangers in public. Needless to say, this pattern of violence has unsettled the community and left many of us searching for an appropriate way to respond-- one that won't escalate the situation, but communicates that we want to prevent violent and bigoted behavior.

For me this brings up, among other things, the power of stereotypes and the social distortion they can cause. I've been reading Whistling Vivaldi, a book that gets it's title from the story of a fellow in NYC who observed people consistently shrinking from him in fear
as he walked home from school. In order to address the reaction he inspired in strangers as a black man, he began to whistle classical music as he walked. He found that this simple strategy had a dramatic effect on passersby-- they began to smile and relax as he approached. He found a way to diffuse the situation by communicating, "I am not who you think I am and I am not to be feared" without saying a word. Likewise, in a local example, Casey found a way to gracefully communicate the impact of an assault he witnessed to the perpetrator the day after the event in a way that re-humanized everybody involved. William Blake said that damn braces and bless relaxes... there's something to that.

So how do we each bless ourselves and others in order to promote healing? The answers aren't always forthcoming and i
t's been hard to avoid a sense of urgency when it comes to addressing these recent events in Lander. Everybody is acutely aware of Matthew Shepard's death in Laramie, another Wyoming town of good people taken aback by violence yet shot through with pain and prejudice. Given the pressures and challenges involved, it's been especially heartening of late to see people here succeed in finding ways, no matter how small, to reinforce the values we aspire to live by with respect and personal integrity.

"Poco a poco, paso a paso...", as they say. We're all trying our best and I think that counts for a lot.

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